Senators demand Bolton reconsider eliminating top cyber post

Senators demand Bolton reconsider eliminating top cyber post
© Greg Nash

The Trump administration’s decision to eliminate a top cybersecurity position at the White House is drawing more criticism from senators.

A group of 19 senators, all of them Democrats, wrote to national security adviser John Bolton this week urging him to reconsider the move, calling it a “step in the wrong direction” and worrying that it would “lead to a lack of unified focus against cyber threats.”

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The role of White House cybersecurity coordinator was established under the Obama administration to coordinate cybersecurity policymaking efforts across the federal government.

In mid-May, National Security Council officials disclosed that they would eliminate the position in order to streamline operations across the two senior directors who work on cybersecurity.

The decision immediately drew criticism in Washington, particularly from Democrats who argued that it would represent a step backward and undermine U.S. efforts to secure cyberspace.

"Cyberattacks to our nation have increased in frequency and sophistication," the senators, led by Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharTina Smith defeats former Bush ethics lawyer in Minnesota Dem primary Live results: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut hold primaries Hillicon Valley: FBI fires Strzok after anti-Trump tweets | Trump signs defense bill with cyber war policy | Google under scrutiny over location data | Sinclair's troubles may just be beginning | Tech to ease health data access | Netflix CFO to step down MORE (D-Minn.), wrote in the letter to Bolton this week. “Our country’s cybersecurity should be a top priority; therefore, it is critically important that the U.S. government present a unified front in defending against cyberattacks.

“Eliminating the Cybersecurity Coordinator role keeps us from presenting that unified front and does nothing to deter our enemies from attacking us again. Instead, it would represent a step in the wrong direction,” they wrote. “We urge you to send a strong signal to the rest of the world that cybersecurity is a top priority by reconsidering the elimination of the Cybersecurity Coordinator.”

The letter comes after a bipartisan letter from Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBudowsky: Collins, Murkowski and Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary announces Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing NRA will spend M to support Kavanaugh for Supreme Court: report MORE (R-Maine) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichGary Johnson launches New Mexico Senate bid Hillicon Valley: 'QAnon' conspiracy theory jumps to primetime | Senate Intel broadens look into social media manipulation | Senate rejects push for more election security funds | Reddit reveals hack Lawmakers warn that social media manipulation is 'bigger than a single election' MORE (D-N.M.) to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary MORE expressing similar concerns about the decision to eliminate the position.

The job was most recently held by Rob Joyce, who was on detail to the White House from the National Security Agency. Joyce elected to return to the NSA rather than continue in his role at the White House in April, shortly after Bolton’s appointment. 

Politico reported in early May that Bolton was considering eliminating the position. 

A spokesman for the National Security Council said on May 15 that the decision is part of a larger effort to “empower” its senior directors and streamline management and operations.

“The National Security Council’s cyber office already has two very capable Senior Directors. Moving forward, these Senior Directors will coordinate cyber matters and policy. As they sit six feet apart from one another, they will be able to coordinate in real time,” Robert Palladino, the spokesman, said at the time.